Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  Q60  Ms Buck: We all know that there is a concern at the moment about youth crime and some of the issues around gangs. Extra policing and enforcement powers are clearly part of the answer to dealing with that, but, in addition, there is a critical need to deal with some of the issues around prevention. What role has the Mayor got in dealing with issues of youth crime and prevention?

  Mr Livingstone: It is important to remember the Mayor sets the police budget, and that is it. The application of that budget is a matter for the Commissioner, i.e. the day to day administration is matter for the Commissioner. I am not in the position of, say, the Mayor of New York, who has basically operational control of the Commissioner and the budget, and I suspect no-one would actually want that for any mayor, but the relationship is one in which, I think, all the agreements I have achieved with the two commissioners to put resources back on the streets have worked. The second area is what you do. We can flood the streets with police, but wherever you go in London the kids say, "There is nothing to do around here." The Government has now given my £59 million, and we have added £20 million to the LGA budget to restore youth provision. I grew up in a city where in the evenings and at weekends kids were taken to organised activities, where our parents and others were role models and mentors, that used our energy, and we need to rebuild that so that kids have got something to do other than hang round and get caught up in gangs. I am delighted. At the moment the total spending on youth provision in the evenings and at weekends in London and for all 32 boroughs is £60 million. This is £79 million to spend over two years, so the objective has to be to double this provision and then sustain it.

  Q61  Ms Buck: On that second point, there is also an issue around young people and using public transport. Have you been able to do anything since you have become Mayor in dealing with some of those concerns about young people's behaviour on buses and transport?

  Mr Livingstone: We had a spike of anti-social behaviour in the immediate aftermath of making free travel on the buses for under-16s, and our response to that was to create the safer transport groups in the 21 outer boroughs. We are now rolling them out in the 11 inner boroughs this year. As I said, in the year following that, crime by under-16s on the buses was cut by 19% and the conviction rate went up about 20%. From June, where initially we decided the photo-pass would only apply to children over 14, I think we will make that from the age of 11 (so at that point where children move from primary to secondary school they have to have a pass with the photo ID or they will not be able to get on the bus), and that is going to be easier for conductors to enforce. It is much easier to tell the difference between a ten year old and a 14 year old than it is a 14 and a 16.

  Q62  David Davies: Mr Livingstone, the figures that you are using, are they based on the British Crime Survey, which the Chief Constable of the BTP has recently said are not that accurate, or are they based on recorded crime?

  Mr Livingstone: They are the Recorded Crime Statistics. It is quite interesting: when you track the Recorded Crime Statistics and the British Crime Survey, over the period since 2000 our crime statistics show an 18% reduction and the British Crime Statistics—it is an opinion poll really, a good poll, and we spend a lot of money on opinion polls, so I am not going to rubbish them—shows a 15% reduction. That is within the margin of error. I think the problem with British Crime Statistics is I know people are interviewed in their home, but if the overwhelming background of the media is endless crime, it encourages a fear. The big difference between, say, London and New York is that, as crime figures came down in New York, New York's media broadcast this world good news story. I have yet to see on the front page of the Evening Standard: "Murder, rape down 28%". In almost any other city in the world you would expect to see that. When you analyse fear of crime by newspaper readership, people who read the tabloids have a greater fear of crime than those who read the broadsheets.

  Q63  Mr Clappison: So it is all the papers' fault!

  Mr Livingstone: In the London BBC and ITV regional news programmes they have a slogan, "If it bleeds, it leads", and it is quite bizarre that as crime and serious crimes are coming down they are not instantly reporting it. It sells papers. People love horror stories; here they get one free on the tube.

  Q64  Tom Brake: Mr Livingstone, you have talked in glowing terms of the extra police that you have provided and, consequently, the drop in crime that you say is associated with that. Equally, you are on record as saying that no mayor, no commissioner of police can stop young people killing each other if they have not been given a moral code. Are you responsible for reducing the crime levels, or are you in fact not able to address crime? Which is it?

  Mr Livingstone: The point I am making is that, even if we had 70,000 police on the streets, a child that takes a knife to school can end up being killed with it in a fight, and, therefore, the moral code is important. My parents, that post-war generation, gave me a very clear sense of what was right and what was wrong and a very clear sense of a responsibility to society. I was taught from a very early age that you get up and give up your seat to a woman on the train. Now we have to put stickers up to remind people to do that for pregnant women. I do think you are looking at a generation today, and I know this is controversial, these are the children of the kids that grew up in the eighties when society was talking about, "Get your snout in the trough; no such thing as society; look after number one; greed is good, as Gordon Gekko said. I do think society has a duty, through its parents and through its schools, to give a basic moral code and I think a lot of parents do not do that—they did not get it themselves—and there was a newspaper story the other day about teachers having to do this. We have got to get to those parents who have never been shown how to be parents.

  Q65  Tom Brake: Mr Livingstone, I would share your views on the success or otherwise of the Thatcherite years. However, you seem to be suggesting that really there is nothing that the police can do and you as Mayor can do about tackling the crimes that are associated with the sort of young people that you are talking about.

  Mr Livingstone: There is a real difference between saying the police cannot stop somebody killing someone else, unless it is very ugly circumstances, to saying the police cannot do anything about it. We have had incredibly effective targeting. We used to have a much higher rate of murder amongst the black communities. We established Operation Trident and rebuilt confidence between the black communities and the police. The conviction rate for black-on-black murders under Operation Trident: at the beginning, before Trident, it was only a third of convictions; it is now running at two-thirds of convictions because the black community have gained the confidence that the police are on their side and they are giving information up. When we have specific, targeted operations, as we did over Christmas and New Year, against clubs where we know a lot of the customers carry knives and close them, a dramatic reduction in knife crime around that time. You can extend CCTV. Every time you are on a bus we have six or seven cameras trained on you, we are gradually getting better and better at arresting people, even people who carry out quite small crimes. We can do all this, but it is not just the police on their own, it is wider society: parents, teachers, community leaders have all got to be involved.

  Q66  Mr Streeter: I was interested in your answer to Karen Buck, Mr Livingstone, when you said that people in this country would not want the Mayor of London to have operational control of the police, because in your submission to us you suggest that one of the reforms you support is that the Metropolitan Police Authority's executive functions should be taken over by the Mayor of London. It seemed to me that was more or less saying the same thing. Do you think that people in this country would be comfortable with you as Mayor having day-to-day control of London police?

  Mr Livingstone: That is the Metropolitan Police Authority, which is the small body that is comprised of half of Assembly members and then co-optees; it is not the Metropolitan Police Service. They cannot tell the Commissioner how to operate either. I think there is confusion. The problem with the Metropolitan Police Authority is, like the old BBC Board of Governors, it is the body they are accountable to but it is also involved in advising, guiding and managing. So I would rather that the Mayor appointed a small core of non politicians with expertise in this area, representing the community, representing people who have real expertise in crime, and the MPA then became accountable to the London Assembly, so you strengthen their role as well. At the moment they are not.

  Q67  Mr Streeter: So you are not saying that you should have day-to-day control of the Metropolitan Police?

  Mr Livingstone: No, I do not think so. I think Mayor Giuliani was particularly successful and when you have got a good and honest mayor, that is all going to be fine. The risk from a mayor that is not so honest---. How would someone like Mr Yates have conducted his inquiry into the cash for honours scandal if I was, effectively, his line manager? I do not want that situation.

  Q68  Martin Salter: Mr Livingstone, how do you react to David Cameron's proposal that we should have elected police commissioners? Is there not some validity in Liberty's criticism that this could lead to excessive politicisation of the police?

  Mr Livingstone: In London we have an elected mayor and there is clear responsibility for providing the police budget; the Home Secretary appoints the Commissioner. I actually think that is now an anachronism, it should be the Mayor that makes that appointment, but I notice no capital city in the world allows it. Wherever the government is based, they always insist on appointing their police commissioner, so this is a pattern we are not going to break. I do not dismiss everything David Cameron says. I am particularly struck by his statement that you would never have got police back on the streets of London if there was not a directly elected mayor, and you needed somebody who actually set the police budget to be in a position to negotiate and say, "I am prepared to give you eight years of expanded spending. I want police back on the streets", and that was the deal I struck with Sir John and it is a deal that has been honoured by Ian Blair, and I think that a clear point of accountability, the person who sets the council tax, subject to the Assembly, able to say as you sit there with the Commissioning Office, "I will give you X million more. How are they going to be deployed?", and the two commissioners have always honoured the deals we have done. If police numbers in London go down, Londoners have the Mayor to blame, because the Mayor has not provided the funding.

  Q69  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Livingstone, I want to ask you about the relationship between minority groups in London and the Met Police. In your view (and perhaps if you have got any evidence you could share it with us), how has that changed within the time that you have been Mayor and, in particular, what effect have the counter-terrorism measures and activities had on that relationship?

  Mr Livingstone: Twenty-five years ago we had riots in London and we eventually had the hacking to death of a police officer at Broadwater Farm—relations were appalling. Before I became Mayor at the time of David Copeland's free bonds, I went to community events where the police were working and I was struck by how already things had begun to change. Sir John Stephens drove that forward, Ian Blair has continued that and I think there is an incredible level of trust between London's ethnic minorities. If you look at the Muslim community, which is the one most under pressure at the moment, a police officer that mishandles a stop and search clearly worsens the situation, but I think the vast majority of our police are very sensitive to the fact that the Muslim community needs to be kept on side. It is our eyes and ears; we get much of the intelligence that leads us to prevent atrocities from the Muslim community. If you actually look at the raid in Forest Gate, in Newham, which could have stretched relations to breaking point, I was struck by the number of Muslim leaders saying, "We know these things have to be done. If there is a suspicion, there has to be a raid." We learnt how to handle it a bit better out of that. What is stretching relations between the Muslim community and wider society is not the police, it is the war in Iraq, and anybody whoever sits before you and says that the major force fuelling terrorism is not the war in Iraq, they are really misleading you.

  Q70  Gwyn Prosser: The specific effects of counter-terrorism activities?

  Mr Livingstone: This is a tension. My primary response in all these debates is if something would genuinely make it safer for Londoners, we have to do it, and that is the balance against civil liberties, but it is a constant struggle. I followed the twists and turns of how many days. I am not persuaded to go beyond the present limit at all, and being honest and slightly humorous, if you say to a police officer, "You would like 42 years", they would say, "That is fine"—the police are inevitably going to take whatever enables them to do their job more easily. Members of Parliament have got to balance that against any long-term damage to established civil liberties, which might in the end---. There is no point fighting Al Qaeda if at the end of the day we have lost most of the liberties which we are told they so hate.

  Q71  Gwyn Prosser: You mentioned stop and search. What do you think the effect of Sir Ronnie Flanagan's stop and search proposals have had on the relationship?

  Mr Livingstone: I am attracted to them, because anything that reduces the time of the stop and search is to be welcomed. You have got to retain the essence of what the Macpherson Lawrence Inquiry did in terms of accountability. If we can have a small handheld computer and something is tapped in, or if each officer has got a named identity card that they can give with a phone contact point, that is fine. I think one of the great mistakes of the last ten years is this drift into the idea you can manage everything with monitoring and checking and reforms to the centre. I think an awful lot more is achieved if you devolve and let people have more responsibility locally.

  Q72  Gwyn Prosser: On a number of occasions you have said that you want to see a police force in London that looks more like London. How are you progressing in that and what effect will that have?

  Mr Livingstone: We have made very good progress. It is very difficult when you inherit an established force; you can only change the intakes coming in. It is much more instructive to look at the police community support officers, which look much more like London. What is really good about that is that a lot of people are doing a year or two PCSOs and then feel they have the confidence to go to Hendon and train to be a full police officer. Bearing in mind what I remember of tensions between the police and ethnic minorities in London 25 years ago, it is never going to be perfect and it never can be because their job is to police, it is to control, it is to check, but it is infinitely better than it was. I never go to bed worrying if there is going to be a riot in London; whereas that was a constant threat 25 years ago.

  Q73  Chairman: Are you disappointed that more progress has not been made in appointing senior figures from the black and Asian community within the Police Force to senior positions in the Metropolitan Police, because we have not had very many in the last four years?

  Mr Livingstone: This is not just in the police, it is in the fire brigade, it is amongst my own senior staff. Progress is being made. There are black and Asian and female appointments being made, but it is always going to lag a good decade behind that initial wave of recruitment and we have just got to push much harder. I think you actually may need special mentoring and help, because there is a huge focus of attention on the first few faces that appear at the front of any organisation, they almost have to be perfect, and the slightest mistake, the slightest error, all the hostile evidence of watching to exploit it, and we have a couple of examples (which I do not need to go into before your committee) where, had they not been high ranking ethnic minority officers, their small indiscretions might not have achieved the attention they would have liked.

  Q74  Mr Winnick: You said the police would take any number of days beyond the 28 they can have; so you are not surprised that Sir Ian Blair is one of the very few people in leading authority who support the Government on extending the 28 days?

  Mr Livingstone: No, I do not agree with him on that. That is the difference between—. You know where I am coming from politically. Before I had responsibility in some small measure for London's safety I would have been totally in the camp of no extra powers for the police.

  Q75  Mr Winnick: On the basis that all of the candidates are for necessary protection against terrorism, we would listen, obviously, to the other two who are appearing after you, Mr Livingstone, but if the three of you are very much opposed to extending it beyond 28 days, should not the Government take that very much into account in deciding on the policy?

  Mr Livingstone: Yes. We may reach a point where this problem of decoding the encrypted data on computers means you have to come back and look at 28 days, but I would think it would be unusual to have a situation, unusual but not impossible, where you had not already identified other things you could charge them for whilst you continued to work on the computer. My broad view would be only to extend the encroachment of civil liberties once it had been irrevocably demonstrated that it was running the risk of costing us lives.

  Q76  Mr Winnick: That is more or less the evidence given to us by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Have you notified the Government in one way or another of your views on this subject?

  Mr Livingstone: I think I have made that clear. Mind you, they do not seem to be paying much attention to me or my rival candidates on the question of the third runway either.

  Q77  Bob Russell: You indicated earlier that of the 35,000 uniform officers, 4,000 of them are PCSOs. Following on Mr Prosser's question about the ethnic diversity of police officers, are the PCSOs more representative of the London community?

  Mr Livingstone: Much more and, in particular, in terms of women as well. I do see that almost as an entry into the full police service later on, so we are very encouraged by that, because that is the group of officers that Londoners most see. Seventy five per cent of their time is spent out on the beat.

  Q78  Chairman: Finally, Mr Mayor, if there was one thing the Government could do to help you with your policing priorities in London, apart from giving you more money to do it, what would that be?

  Mr Livingstone: Part of the problem is this, and Sir Ronnie Flanagan's report touches on this question of the damping. I would say give us the freedom financially to manage our own budgets. Ninety-seven per cent of all tax in this country is collected by central government and then doled out. The life of ministers is a stream of people like me coming from their towns and counties, saying, "Can we have more money for this, more money for that?" At some point the Government has to let go. When I told that figure of 97% to the Mayor in Moscow he said, "That is worse than Russia under Stalin", and that is absolutely true. There was once a promise to return the business rate. That would help.

  Q79  Chairman: Mr Livingstone, thank you for coming to give evidence.

  Mr Livingstone: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here.

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